Over the last few months, we have been building our online community (OC Connect), and this has reaffirmed a few things for me:
- The bias and stigma that people living with obesity face is pervasive and heartbreaking.
- The disease of obesity is very complex. There is no one cause and there is no one cure. It is a unique experience for each of us.
- Many of us have lived for years with the misinformation that we are the problem and that our disease is solely the result of our poor choice.
- Society reinforces a lot of misinformation and as a result it continues to be an open season to shame, judge, and spread hate about people living in larger bodies.
In meeting fellow advocates from around the world, as well as the members of our OC community, it is clear that hurt, shame and anger are universal themes that surround obesity. While we all come from our own paths and unique lived experiences, we share common wounds. We have been treated as “less than” for too long and in too many places, and as a result many of us also carry within us a lot of anger.
Anger can be detrimental, but it can also be a powerful force for change. Anger can also be a new emotion for many of us to process. One of the biggest takeaways from the bariatric surgical program I was part of was learning about assertive rights. While the concepts themselves were not new or ground breaking, seeing them as applicable to me and how I navigate life created a gravitational shift.
I realized I had spent 40 years living life attempting to please people in order to compensate for my appearance. I also realized that this was not actually helping me or others like me. I was being silently complicit to inappropriate treatment that needed to be called out.
Understanding anger and how to channel that anger was new to me. I found this amazing artwork by a Canadian artist named Cynthia Frenette, which is now my computer desktop image. It shows a fierce, pink cheetah bearing its fangs, with large, bold words: “I’m allowed to be angry.” It is my daily reminder that I am allowed to be angry. And, in equal measure, to look for opportunities to use this anger to fuel change.
Living with obesity is hard, and there is a lot of hurt and anger in our community – and we are here for it. We see you. We hear you. We need to tap into our collective anger to create systemic change.
We know you’re tired of feeling that you have to justify the space you take up in life on every level.
We know you’re angry that people in larger bodies remain an easy target for jokes that are not even funny and diminish our dignity as people.
We know you are furious that people do not accept the evidence-based facts about the disease we live with and that they continue to perpetuate the belief that we are just lazy and too dumb to understand weight loss.
We know that you, like us, are enraged that people living with obesity are on the receiving end of more bias than care in the medical system, the same place we need to go for support.
We also know that even some of our best allies in life still do not understand our anger. And that can be infuriating in and of itself. Even my closest friends can struggle to see that what is happening is fundamentally unacceptable because they have also had the wrong information ingrained into them. Often, they can be on our side but not fully share the anger, wanting us to make the best of what we can. But that is not enough. And that is what makes our community so important. We as people living with obesity need to demand better and collectively channel our energy and our anger.
Your anger is a measure of love. It sparks when you see the humanity and worthiness in someone you love and want to defend them. Anger ignites when you are able to identify that something happening around you — even if it is commonplace — is wrong and must be changed. Anger is the combustion that starts the engine.
There are million more conversations to be had about obesity and anger and change, but for today I leave you with this call to arms. Join us. Join us in recognizing obesity as a disease. Join us in understanding how to live with this disease. Join us in educating others about obesity.
Join us in demanding better from the medical system. Join us in helping people move into new ways of thinking. Join us in getting louder however you can from where you.
Join us in making our anger one of our superpowers.
Chair, OC Public Engagement Committee